“Bullet carriers came from shooting ranges.” That’s how presidential candidate Manuel A. Roxas 2nd tried to explain away the raging “tanim-bala” controversy in an interview with reporters the other day in Cauayan City, Isabela. He cited statistics from the transport and communications department showing many of those caught with bullets at the airport came from firing ranges and forgot to dispose of their rounds before going to the airport. [*]
Roxas used to be intelligent as former President Arroyo’s trade and industry secretary, even if that didn’t really shine through, what with his mediocre performance there. But he seems to have imbibed after five years the dull-wittedness of this Administration – either that, or the belief of its leader Benigno Aquino 3rd that Filipinos are so stupid and gullible is true.
The statistics cited by Roxas don’t even exist. He must have confused the report on the annual number of incidents claimed by the DOTC with the incredible news account that a Japanese tourist admitted he forgot to leave behind the bullets he had placed in his jacket at the firing range.
That Roxas even blurted out the claim that those caught with bullets in their baggage came from shooting ranges is hilarious.
Has the expensive sport of shooting (a reloaded bullet costs P50 easily) become so popular in the Philippines that we wouldn’t find it odd for a 65-year old female OFW, a grandmother on a wheelchair, and an American missionary to indulge in such a hobby before rushing to catch a flight at the airport?
Another gem from Roxas’ mind on this controversy: “Is this a plot to destroy the government’s image, especially now that that we’re about to host the APEC?” he asked rhetorically.
That’s the conspiracy theory attempted to be disseminated by this Administration’s spin doctors as a cover-up for the shameful extortion racket at the country’s main airports. A Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist yesterday echoed what seemed to be the new “party-line” on this issue: “One cannot help but suspect that there might be motives other than to afflict the innocent/ignorant and to extort. Is there a hidden agenda in all this, like ‘sow fear and arouse suspicion and thereby, create an embarrassing situation for the government of Aquino?’ There must be more to tanim-bala than meets the eye.”
Do Roxas and that writer think those female OFWs and the missionary preyed upon by the airport extortionists were paid by the opposition to carry bullets in their baggage, to be later discovered so that such embarrassing incidents would fire up the tanim-bala controversy?
And yet here’s another gem from Roxas’ mouth on this controversy: “Kung nagpasok ka ng contraband sa airport, paano naging problema ng gobyerno yun?” he arrogantly said recently in Isabela.” (“If you brought in contraband through the airport, why should that be a government problem?’)
He apparently misses the entire point of the controversy: OFWs and tourists are accusing airport officers of planting contraband in their luggage to extort money from passengers.
Roxas may be losing his marbles in his obsession to be President of this country. If he doesn’t cool it, people might classify him in the same league of presidential candidates as Allan Carreon, “Ambassador for Intergalactic Space,” or one who prefers to call himself Lucifer, saying he is just doing “his masters’ bidding.”
Roxas’ protégé, Joseph Emilio Abaya, who is the DOTC secretary, certainly comes from the same fabric of which Roxas himself is made.
Abaya claimed the bullet-planting issue has been “blown out of proportion,” pointing out that those who were caught with bullets, numbering 1,510 in all, made up only 0.004 percent of the 34.2 million passengers who passed through NAIA terminals in 2014.
Abaya is clueless about the stupidity of his attempt to be scientific. It’s amazing why, with the mess he has done with the MRT-3 and now with his pathetic attempts to claim that there’s no problem at the airport, he still hasn’t been given his walking papers. For chrissakes, make him run for something so he’d leave tomorrow.
The 1,510 figure of travelers caught with bullets means nothing if you do not compare it with the number of such bullet-carrying passengers caught in Bangkok, Jakarta, or the “average” at airports in Asia at least. If none were caught at those airports, or just 10 in a year, shouldn’t we worry about the data submitted by the airport security people here?
Let’s say, there were 1,000 travelers from Manila passing through Los Angeles international airport in 2014 caught with cocaine in their baggage, and the US raised complaints about this. Would the Philippines claim that the Americans are blowing it out of proportion as it represents only .001 percent of all travelers coming from Manila and landing in Los Angeles?
But more important than Abaya’s ridiculous figures is the fact that the gravamen of the controversy is precisely that airport staff are planting bullets in travelers’ baggage, and then extorting money from them in exchange for the passengers’ smooth passage and freedom from any legal action (which in real cases would involve a penalty of up to six years in prison) taken against them.
So in such cases, when victims pay up, they won’t be reported, right? Logically, the 1,510 passengers caught with bullets in their luggage in 2014 were only those who didn’t fork over the money to the airport extortionists. How about those who buckled under the pressure and paid the demanded amount just to avoid the hassle and trouble from it all, how many were they – three or four times more?
If 1,510 were caught with bullets in 2014, and 6,600 since 2012 to October this year, how many cases have been filed in court, given that these are criminal offenses?
These buffoons at the airport don’t even coordinate among themselves as to what figures to announce to the public. Abaya cited figures from the DOTC’s Office of Transportation Security (OTS), which showed 1,394 passengers have been intercepted carrying bullets so far this year to October.
On the other hand, the Philippine National Police’s Aviation Security Group (PNP-AVSEGROUP), which has the authority to file criminal cases, said there were only 139 cases involving bullets found in passengers’ luggage this year, with 51 filed in court.
They may have unwittingly exposed the magnitude of the extortion racket.
Out of the 1,394 passengers the DOTC claimed were caught with bullets this year to date, the Avsecom filed only 139 cases. That very likely meant that the remaining 1,255 forked over money to the extortionists so no cases were filed against them, and 139 didn’t pay any amount. And out of the 139, some 88 of them paid later so they were not charged in court, leaving only 51 cases that were actually filed by the Avsegroup.
Let’s assume that there’s a 50-50 chance the victims decided to pay up. Using the $500 figure reported by a tourist way back in 2012 as the amount demanded by these unscrupulous airport security personnel, the 1,255 passengers who fell victim to this racket would have yielded a total P35 million windfall for those extortionists at the airport.
Now I’m beginning to understand why the top transport authorities have been dismissive of this issue, claiming it is being “blown out of proportion” and that those caught have so far been practice shooters proceeding to the airport straight from the firing ranges, or that the whole episode is a plot to shame Aquino.
Why is this racket being exposed only now?
Partly because the media stumbled on the plight of an elderly OFW who refused to buckle under the extortion attempt, and was detained for several days. Widely circulated in the social media, the case, bolstered by other reports that trickled out subsequently, triggered public outrage.
It is also because the extortionists have become desperate for a fresh infusion before their modus faces a wall of uncertainty when a new administration takes over in just nine months. These airport gangsters may be frantically seizing the “last two minutes” of their game of scaring travelers out of their wits by shooting bullets into their pockets and making them pay for a way out of it.
Thanks to an incompetent, arrogant Administration, we have become the object of contempt and ridicule by the world.
[*] Originally published in the Manila Times